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May 31, 2019

Tackling tobacco


May 31, 2019

With the world observing ‘No Tobacco Day’ today, it is time to look at how little Pakistan has done to combat the health risks attached with consuming tobacco products. The numbers are so high that one must wonder why more stringent measures have not been taken. It is estimated that around 170,000 Pakistanis die every year due to smoking. However, unlike the developing world where young people are giving up smoking, a report from the National Health Ministry states that there are around 20 million child smokers – under the age of 15 years of age – in Pakistan. The report estimates that almost 1,200 children start smoking every day in the country. Unlike other countries where bans against selling tobacco products to children are stringently implemented, Pakistan ranks low in its ability to stop young people from having access to tobacco products. Tobacco control activists have raised concerns over the PTI government receiving donations for the dam fund from tobacco companies – which is a formula that used to be followed all over the world to ensure that policies remained favourable towards them. The WHO framework considers it a violation of its codes to take such donations, which is an issue that the sitting government must take seriously.

PM Imran Khan raised the question of child welfare in his first address after becoming premier; however, the government is yet to tackle one of the greatest threats to the welfare of children. To start with, there is a need to enforce strict policies against selling tobacco to children. Enforcement is the most crucial part. As it stands, shopkeepers are not afraid of any checks and balances on whom they sell tobacco to. Moreover, there is a need to increase tax on tobacco products, which discourages young people from smoking. Pakistan is amongst the top 15 countries with the greatest health burden due to smoking. As it stands, the government claims that it loses Rs143 billion in tobacco-related illnesses, compared to Rs83 billion generated in revenue. It could start by equaling those numbers.

The PM’s Focal Person on Tobacco Control has claimed that the government has given a go-ahead to introduce stringent reforms against tobacco-use. One will have to wait to see whether action is actually taken. Around eight million people around the world die each year due to tobacco smoking, while around 80 percent of the world’s 1.1 billion smokers suffer from cardiovascular and respiratory problems. Moreover, the enforcement of strict health and safety practices in the tobacco cultivation industry in Pakistan is also essential, where the incidence of nicotine poisoning remains high. What is important is to build a successful campaign that creates a consensus that discourages tobacco-use at source.

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